Margo Okazawa-Rey

Nine Hamilton students, along with faculty and staff, visited the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tenn., during spring break, where they participated in a leadership retreat.

Natalie Adams ’17, Diana Aguilar ’18, Victor Bene ’19, Sacharja Cunningham ’19, Shaina Coronel ’19, Mimi Do ’17, Natasha Espinosa ’18, Porshai Rivera ’16 and Naomi Tsegaye ’16 were part of an independent study leadership project in the Women’s Studies Department.

The Hamilton group was joined by faculty and staff from Colgate University and Pitzer College.

The retreat was aimed at promoting an understanding about raced and gendered campus climates that have given rise to a range of damaging experiences, from the more subtle micro-aggressions to outright violence. Another goal was to learn about and practice change strategies including intergenerational organizing, Participatory Action Research (PAR), and cultural organizing, to create diverse, safe and just campuses.

Through cross-campus discussions and shared learning, the program

  • Created synergies that supported and inspired student leaders who often feel isolated, unprepared, sometimes even threatened.
  • Developed participants’ consciousness, skills and confidence.
  • Advanced ongoing conversations and change efforts at the three colleges represented.

Of the program, Natasha Espinosa said that “Valuing the experiences of both the young and old, divorcing age from wisdom, balancing trauma and empowerment, and disrupting assumptions of age groups are all principles that proved significant to me during our time at Highlander.”

Natalie Adams commented, “Every group meeting and individual conversation inspired me to learn how to do the justice work I feel so strongly about… Every time we got together, I could see the seeds of the collective being sown.”

President Barack Obama recognized Highlander’s history recently at the Nordic State Dinner at the White House calling Highlander a place where “new generations of Americans came together to share their ideas and strategies for advancing civil rights, for advancing equality, for advancing justice.”

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